Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Creative pitfall: You don’t need to innovate in every area

I think a massive creative pitfall beginners make is subconsciously assuming they need to innovate in many areas, at the same time.

For example, to get started making music, a budding musician might assume she needs to:

  • 1 – Write her own lyrics
  • 2 – Write her own vocal melody
  • 3 – Write her own chord progression
  • 4 – Write her own instrumental melody
  • 5 – Write her own song arrangement

…which sounds like a tremendous amount of work! (And it is!)

But that’s not accurate assessment of the effort needed to complete the goal (make a song). It’s actually an assessment of the upper bound of the effort.

In reality, you can (and should) “steal like an artist”:

  • 1 – Use your favorite song’s lyrics
  • 2 – Use your favorite song’s vocal melody
  • 3 – Use your favorite song’s chord progression
  • 4 – Use your favorite song’s instrumental melody
  • 5 – Use your favorite song’s arrangement

(You will probably also do this subconsciously anyway, as you draw from your influences.)

Of course, these vary in terms of how acceptable they are to “ship in production” without giving credit to the original. #1 should always be done with credit, and is usually considered “Doing a cover” song. On the other hand #3 is 100% fair game to use, and release with no credit. There are only so many chord progressions actually used in popular music.

However, provided you give credit where it’s due, as you mix and match these options, you can explore the creative space of tradeoffs between originality and effort.

The lower bound is “stealing” on every dimension possible, which produces the platonic ideal of a “Cover Song”. There is nothing wrong with this, and this is how virtually every artist in the world gets started. (e.g. Justin Bieber)

At this level of your journey, the absolute most important metric to optimize (lower) is the friction & effort of doing the craft. Only once you’ve built your creative muscle stronger, can you tolerate more strenuous artistic projects that explore different parts of the effort vs originality space.

This concept applies to any other creative practice, including starting a business or learning to code. In fact, the inspiration for this idea was this Indie Hackers interview with Michael Seibel of Y Combinator, where he advises startups to select where they innovate.

Life is a business; life is a game; life is art

Here are three ways to view your life:

Life as a business

Life is a business, and you are the Founder & CEO.

You have goals, resources, and agency. The idea is to build the strongest business and life for yourself. You do this by making good decisions and generating profit.

The most savvy founders look for holes in the fabric of society, the market, their industry โ€” and exploit them. They seek trends that allow them to be ahead of the curve.

Life as a game

Life is a game, and you are a player.

You are initialized with random parameters that inform your strengths, weaknesses, and initial environment. There’s an endless world in front of you to explore and play in.

The idea is to do well at the game โ€” build points, power, connections. You encounter other players, transact with them, exchange moves, determine if they are trustworthy or hostile.

You learn the rules over time and understand what game you are even playing. You discover that within the greater context of “the game”, there are many sub-games you can play.

Randomness and luck are all built into the game.

Life as an art piece

Life is an art project, and you are the artist.

You have a blank canvas in front of you and an infinite number of creative decisions to make. The idea is to find a beautiful & satisfying creative endpoint for your piece.

There are many creative paths to take, leading to different ends. There is no best end, but some ends are better than others.

Like any other artist, you must apply techniques to manage the decision space. You apply constraints โ€” sometimes artificially, sometimes destructively โ€” to move forward.

Art/Artist Fit

Product/Market fit is when you’ve made a product that people actually want.

Product/Founder fit is when your product is a good fit for you, personally, as a founder.1

Art/Artist fit (something I just made up) is a generalization of Product/Founder given the point of view that products are art and making a product is an artistic practice.

Given that art is a reflection of the artist, it makes sense that certain kinds of art will be more or less natural for someone to make, given their personal inclinations.

A few examples from the wild:

In this episode of the Art of Product podcast (1:11:00), Adam Wathan talks about how a subscription-model content business isn’t a good fit for him, while it is a good fit for a friend. Adam doesn’t like the idea of “being on a treadmill” to constantly create new content for the subscribers but conversely his friend appreciates the continuous dopamine hits as opposed to a longer 4 month long effort to create something like an e-book or course.

Next is from Dan Luu, one of my favorite bloggers:

[Paul Graham’s writing] uses multiple aspects of what’s sometimes called classic style. […] . What that means is really too long to reasonably describe in this post, but I’ll say that one part of it is that the prose is clean, straightforward, and simple. […]

My style is opposite in many ways. I often have long, meandering, sentences, not for any particular literary purpose, but just because it reflects how I think

Dan Luu,

Last is from Kareful, one of my favorite musicians:

“does anyone have tips for finishing a song? these days i can only write the intro and 1st drop, and i can’t get passed this point” – Vavn

Maybe you’re not meant to write long music, I also had this discovery recently, now all my tracks are around 2 minutes, but I find this means I now finish 3/4 tracks a week.


Personally, I find short, several-paragraph posts about a specific thought very much a fit for me right now. This blog started in a very different way, doing long, deeply technical researched pieces which were a fit for me at the time (gap year) but no longer are.

Musically, I loved hyper-technical electronic music production ~2020 (also during my gap year) but recently have been doing simpler, more “beatsy” music.

3 years of Timestamps

It’s been three years since I launched, and a little less than three years since I stopped working on it.

Since March 25th, 2020, here are the stats:

  • 4465 uploads
  • $437 revenue earned

This works out to about 4 uploads per day, which for me, is a great success.

Rough recap:

  • Feb 2020: I was taking my gap year and wanted to code again. I had the idea to work on a little tool for exporting locators from Ableton Live sets. I thought it would be fun to just quickly make it into a web app, and ship it. I ended up hyperfocusing on the problem space and making it super high accuracy (handling tempo automation). I also made it work for FL Studio which was difficult but a fun challenge.
  • March: I launch the web app ( at the time) and start trying to get users. I was extremely difficult. I posted on subreddits for DJing, Ableton, FL Studio, and Rekordbox.

Learnings and mistakes:

  • I wasted a ton of time porting to Google Cloud in an attempt to make the site run for free. It was an utter failure and I ended up porting back to Heroku.
  • I spent a ton of time DM’ing music producers that were performing at “e-fests” which were popular at the time (due to Covid-19, which was in full swing at the time). This was doomed to failure โ€” none of them would find value in this niche product.
  • Ironically, the customer and user that got the most use out of it reached out to me, not the other way around. The CEO of a company that makes a high volume of DJ mixes for hotels and restaurants DM’d me on LinkedIn asking to set up a call. He found me via SEO/Google search and was able to find me on LinkedIn because I had been bold enough to put myself as “CEO,” on my LinkedIn profile. Lesson: Be bold!
  • If I really wanted to do this in a time and capital efficient way, I should have put in way more customer research before building this whole product (including super advanced features like hyper accurate tempo automation support). I didn’t care about this though because I was on my gap year, and was first and foremost doing it because it was a fun programming challenge.
  • I wasted a ton of time hand coding HTML and modifying a free HTML theme I found online. I eventually rewrote the whole site in Bootstrap which took a bunch of time. The breaking point was when I was trying to make a pricing page with different subscription options. It was going terribly with my hand-hacking of the HTML page, and Bootstrap included great looking UI components for this already. Learning Bootstrap was probably a good investment.
  • If I were to do it again: I would use no-code WAY more. I would try to avoid hand-coding any HTML if at all possible, and just do the minimal amount of code to have an API server running for doing the actual processing.
  • I put up a donation button. In 3 years, I’ve had 3 donors, for a total of $25 in donations.
  • I eventually learned that the majority of DJs don’t care about time accurate records for their DJ mixes. A small subset of them do โ€” those that operate in the radio DJ world where they have licensing or reporting requirements. One DJ said they were required to submit timestamps so a radio show could show the track title on their web ui or something like that. But I was later surprised to see the site continuing to get traffic. Clearly there are some people out there that care. I haven’t bothered to figure out who they are or why. The site continues to be free, with no accounts necessary.

Smart things that I did right:

  • I had a lot of requests to support of DJ software like Traktor. I ignored them which was a great move โ€” it would have taken a lot more time and wouldn’t have moved the needle on the proejct.
  • I negotiated a good rate initially for the commercial customer’s subscription โ€” $40 a month! I then did a questionable move and lowered it significantly to $15 or a so per month when I made it free. The deal was that I would make the site free, but the customer would pay to help me break even on it. I later lowered it even more for them when I switched to ($~20) which is a much cheaper domain then ($80). It was a good move to move domains โ€” that domain was a risky liability โ€” if the customer ever left, I would have been stuck with an expensive, vanity domain for no real reason. I wasn’t going to become the next “” anytime soon.
  • SEO is the main driver, and continues to be until this day. I dominate the results for “ableton timestamps” etc. Posting on reddit and the Ableton forum were good calls.
  • I experimented with different monetization strategies. Pay per use was an interesting experiment and I made a small amount of money.

If I were to actually try to start a business again, I would do a lot of things different:

  • Be much more deliberate about picking the market and kind of customer to server
  • If you want to make money, make something that helps people that already make (and spend) money make even more money (the fact that they already make and spend it powerful and important)
  • Pick a product idea that isn’t totally novel so that it’s not so hard to sell it or introduce. It’s great to be able to say “I’m like X, but different because of A and B and specifically designed for C”

Why I enjoy hanging out with entrepreneurs

I’ve been a regular attendee at the Indie Hackers Berlin meetup lately. I’m not particularly an entrepreneur myself, but I love hanging out with them because they generally have many of the following qualities:

  • High functioning
  • Smart/Clever (to be successfull, you kind of have to be)
  • Ambitious
  • Creative
  • Unconventional thinkers
  • Into self development
  • Leadership

All of which make them very fun and interesting to be around!

How to pick a market that will make you money

As a founder, picking your market is the most important decision youโ€™ll make. It will impact every aspect of your journey, from product development to sales, and ultimately determine how profitable youโ€™ll be. A good market compensates for poor execution on your part, while even the best execution will struggle with a bad one.

So what goes into a good market?

The key attributes are:

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The “Early Stage Founder” Card

(Originally appeared on Indie Hackers)

As the founder of an early stage company, you have a unique tool you can use, but it only lasts for a limited time. It’s the “Early Stage Founder” card.

You can use this card when talking to customers, seeking mentorship, negotiating dealsโ€ฆ it’s versatile. It goes something like this:

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